We defeat hate with love.
That's what I keep hearing in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida leaving 50 dead and 50 more injured at a gay club on Sunday. Love is love is love is love is love is love. But the gunman, Omar Mateen, is dead, and whatever hate he felt has died with him. So whose hate are we now defeating with all this love?
My fellow straight, white, cis people, I suggest that the hate originates with us, and now would be a really good time to honestly reflect on what our systemic prejudice has wrought.
Omar Mateen was a Muslim. How much he practiced is up for debate, but no doubt he experienced his fair share of islamophobia. If his dating profile and reported regular patronage of Pulse -- the club where he opened fire -- are any indication, we may assume that Omar Mateen was gay. He likely witnessed and internalised his fair share of homophobia.
Omar Mateen was a man living in a male-dominated society, where men are discouraged from showing weakness and masculine violence is normalised. It was in this soup of prejudice and patriarchy that Omar Mateen's frustrations were allowed to marinate until he could stand it no more.
I do not excuse Omar Mateen's actions. There is no excuse for the suffering he has brought about. Nor do I believe being gay or Muslim makes one more likely to commit a mass shooting (straight, white dudes have had a near monopoly on the act in recent U.S. history). But let's not pretend that this horrendous act occurred free of cultural context.
In patriarchal societies, masculinity is framed as paradoxically fragile. A spindly glass figurine balanced on a knife edge, liable to fall and smash if not jealously protected. Those designated male at birth find themselves under insurmountable pressure to embody and defend this delicate source of privilege. Those who don't embrace the role find themselves mocked and shamed for failing to uphold the system. Man up. Don't be a pussy. Don't cry. Defend your turf.
The raising up of the masculine requires a corresponding devaluation of the feminine, part of which involves framing men as sexually dominant over women, who are relegated to the roles of objects and prizes. Homosexuality doesn't fit within this patriarchal understanding of sex. It confuses the power dynamic, and flouts the designated gender roles, and so is viewed as suspect.
Despite the progress we've made toward acceptance, coming out is still an ordeal for most in the queer community. LGBTI people brave enough to be out still risk rejection, violence and, as we've just seen, death.
Perhaps it should not surprise us then that, according to Scientific American, homophobia is disproportionately found in people denying their own homosexual tendencies. It would seem that offence is being utilised as the best defence. Active distancing used as an act of self preservation in a culture that threatens to strip away dignity in exchange for honesty.
And while we pressure men to profess a desire to sexually dominate women and protect their patriarchal privilege, we also undermine that privilege with our racism. Men are pushed to dominate politically, financially and culturally, but the positions of power are almost exclusively granted to white men. And as our fear-mongering politicians push their jingoism in exchange for votes, we are fast approaching peak islamophobia (if we haven't reached it already).
All of this adds up to a toxic environment where men who are not white, straight and cis are made to feel extraordinarily inadequate, simply for existing. Add to this the normalisation of masculine violence as a way to express distress, and the availability of assault rifles in the U.S., and you have a recipe for tragedy.
We are told that we can defeat hate with love. The implication is that LGBTI love and pride can trump the hate aimed at their community. That the love of the blood donors lined up around Orlando hospitals trumps the hate of one gunman.
But the truth is, we need more than that. We need those with power and privilege to look at themselves and ask: How did I contribute to this? How can I prevent it from happening again?
We need political leadership to change the laws that discriminate against LGBTI people. Equal access to marriage, adoption, blood donation and (for God's sake) public toilets. We need religious leaders to offer more than prayer, and actively fight for full inclusion and respect for LGBTI people within their own communities. We must challenge the patriarchal ideals that lead men to believe violence is their only acceptable outlet by making our boys feel accepted and loved regardless of their adherence to contrived gender roles. We must challenge racism and islamophobia wherever we see it in our communities.
Straight, white, cis readers, we must become active allies to our family, friends, coworkers and neighbours who are disadvantaged by this system that supports us. If we remain complicit supporters of the status quo, we should not be surprised when tragedy strikes again.